Survivors of sexual violence took to the streets of downtown Hamilton on Thursday night for the first time since 2018.
The annual “Take Back The Night” march saw a few hundred people lining the streets.
The pandemic forced the march to go virtual in 2021 and 2020, and the actual march was cancelled in 2019 due to concerns about police interacting with survivors.
Jessica Bonilla-Damptey, director of Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton and Area (SACHA) and one of the lead organizers of the march, said they were required to allow police to be present this year because of the road closures, but they tried to ensure survivors felt safe by having police be on the periphery of the march rather than directly along the route.
She said this was the first year that all four lanes of traffic were closed for the march.
This was also the first year the march welcomed people of all genders.
Bonilla-Damptey said SACHA consulted staff, volunteers and the management committee, and came to the conclusion that previous marches haven’t been as inclusive as they should be.
“Take Back The Night has not been a safe space for trans women, for nonbinary individuals, because individuals are misgendered and because individuals are told by participants that because of the way that they appear … participants have told them, you shouldn’t be here, you should be at the male event, which is so, so harmful.”
She said one in six men have experienced sexual violence — compared to one in four women — and said men or boys who are Indigenous, disabled, or part of the LGBTQ2 community are even more at risk.
“We just want to make sure that this Take Back The Night and all Take Back The Nights moving forward are as inclusive as possible of all communities and of all survivors. We know that it takes a community to end sexualized violence, and we’re really focusing on that.”
Before the march, the crowd heard from several speakers in the forecourt of Hamilton city hall, including Jordan Carrier, a Plains Cree woman who lives in Hamilton and hosts the podcast One Dish, Many Stories.
She addressed the theme of this year’s march, “revolution rooted in love.”
“The work that this community does, that you folks do, that all of us do in supporting sex workers, supporting anti-racism initiatives, supporting encampment residents, all of that, those are acts of love, supporting and acknowledging that we are sacred beings and we all deserve love.”
A representative of Butterfly, a support network for Asian and Migrant Sex Workers, spoke to the crowd about how sex workers are criminalized through legislation and made more vulnerable to violence as a result.
“The opposite of love is stigma, and it’s killing us,” the spokesperson said.
“Just as we will not blame victims for being out at night, we will not blame sex workers for their work. Sex work is work.”
Koubra Haggar, organizer with the Hamilton Community Benefits Network and co-founder of the Hamilton Encampment Support Network, spoke about Black and racialized communities being overpoliced and how that’s had a personal impact on her and her family.
“It is important to care for each other, to believe survivors, to believe those who tell us that these things are happening.”
The march started at city hall and went down Main Street to James Street, then west along King Street and up Hess Street before heading back down Main.
Participants were encouraged to wear masks to protect those who are immunocompromised and a DARTS bus was provided for those who weren’t able to march but still wanted to take part.